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New exhibition features research at Edinburgh University tackling deadly parasitic diseases

A new exhibition highlighting Scottish research tackling parasitic diseases has opened at the National Museum of Scotland, and runs until 19 April 2020.

Parasites: battle for survival exhibition flyer
The exhibition features research from the Universities of Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow.

Parasites: Battle for Survival showcases ongoing research in Scotland that is helping  eliminate tropical diseases by tackling the parasites that cause them.

The exhibition features five diseases that thrive in areas where health and sanitation systems are at their poorest: malaria, Guinea worm disease, sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis and leishmaniasis.

Spotlight on Edinburgh research tackling Malaria and Schistosomiasis

During development of the exhibition, staff at the Museum worked closely with colleagues in Edinburgh Infectious Diseases, and partners in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Integrative Parasitology at the University of Glasgow and Wellcome Trust Centre  for Anti-Infectives Research at the University of Dundee. 

The exhibition features research by Edinburgh Infectious Diseases researchers Professors Sarah Reece and Francisca Mutapi.

Parasite evolution 

Research in Sarah's lab seeks to uncover the strategies malaria parasites have evolved to cope with challenges of their lifestyle and exploit the opportunities it brings.

Among other things, her research has revealed that parasites can tell the time. They schedule their multiplication in the blood to coincide with their host’s meal times, which likely allows them to coordinate their transmission with the night-biting of mosquitoes. By revealing what decisions parasites make and what information they use, scientists can find weak points to exploit.

Controlling bilharzia

Work in Francisca's lab has made major contributions to Zimbabwe’s national bilharzia control program, which is targeting all 5 million schoolchildren in the country.  Over the last seven years, the programme has reduced national infection and disease prevalence in schoolchildren from around 30% to less than 1%.  The control programme is now being rolled out to include pre-school children for the first time, helping to reduce disease morbidity and mortality still further.

The exhibition also features work by Annette MacLeod by work at the University of Glasgow, tackling sleeping sickness, and research by Susan Wyllie at the University of Dundee, who is pioneering drug discovery to treat leishmaniasis.  The exhibition also highlights the enormous progress made in the fight against Guinea worm, which may soon be completely erradicated.

The cutting-edge research taking place right here in Scotland is incredibly exciting and could mean that these deadly diseases will be consigned to history in the not-too-distant future.  If successful, it would be the first time a human disease has been eradicated since smallpox was wiped out in 1979, The important work taking place to eliminate these deadly diseases goes far beyond laboratories however. Research and drug development is key, but the right public health messaging and collaborative work on the ground is just as crucial, and that’s an important strand of this exhibition.

Sophie GogginsExhibition curator

Workshops for schools

A key aim of the exhibition is to engage the next generation of researchers in the fight against these devasting diseases.  Alongside the exhibition itself, an extensive programme of workshops has been developed by the partner universities.  These free workshops are aimed at S1-S6 pupils in schools across Scotland, and delve deeper into the diseases featured in the exhibition.

Gallery of photos from the exhibition's opening night

Disease panels
The five diseases explored by the exhibition: Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Leishmaniasis, Sleeping Sickness and Guinea Worm.
Tsetse boat
Boat with a blue flag used to attract tsetse flies and reduce spread of sleeping sickness.
Visitors at the exhibition
Visitors use the interactive displays to learn how the body fights parasite infections.
Drug discovery
Equipment used in discovery of new drugs to help treat parasitic diseases.

Further information

Parasites: Battle for Survival is a free exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland until 19 April.

Parasites:  Battle for Survival

Related links

School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh

Sarah Reece's lab webpage

Tackling Infection to Benefit Africa (TIBA) Global Health Unit

Wellcome Trust Centre for Integrative Parasitology, University of Glasgow

Wellcome Trust Centre for Anti-Infectives Research, University of Dundee